Best Foods to Eat Before a Photoshoot

In this guide, you will learn the best ways to eliminate bloating, combat water retention, and correctly control your carb intake to look as lean as possible before your shoot.

It’s nearly time. You’ve been training hard for months on end and measuring every morsel of food you put into your body. Finally, your consistent effort and discipline have paid off, and you’re being rewarded with the opportunity of starring in a photoshoot.

Great job, but your work isn’t quite over yet…

The week prior to your shoot is arguably one of the most important phases when it comes to looking as lean and healthy as possible on your big day. Today, that’s exactly what we’re going to explore:

How to maximize your time and fuel your physique leading up to the event (and the most common mistakes to avoid).

Keep in mind:

If you’re a newcomer to the workout world looking to get in shape, this guide isn’t about gaining a six pack in a week or unveiling the secret to overnight weight loss…

By all means, read on and experiment with caution, but note this is really designed to help seasoned gym-goers and bodybuilders build upon their years of experience. It’s the icing on the cake, not the cake itself.

It’s also important to keep in mind that everybody is different, and whilst this guide contains ideas from both decorated physique athletes and experienced researchers, there’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution. Experiment, adjust and find your sweet spot.

With that all cleared up, let’s dig in!

In this guide you’ll learn:

  • The best ways to eliminate bloating prior to your shoot (for washboard abs).
  • Why water retention could be your biggest enemy (and how to beat it).
  • How to correctly control your carb intake to look as lean as possible.
  • A step-by-step nutrition guide for hitting your peak on the big day.

Three Steps For Being Shredded for Your Shoot

Fitness Photoshoot Diet

Step 1: Beat The Bloat

Ah, the dreaded belly bloat…

This troublesome buildup of gas is often caused by swallowing too much air or results as a byproduct of gut bacteria digesting certain foods.

By keeping bloating at bay, you’ll not only feel much more comfortable on your shoot, but it’ll also help your stomach appear more slim and toned. Win-win!

Four Top Tactics for Banishing Bloating:

1/ Eat Anti-Bloat Foods

Reduce Bloating for Shredded Abs
Some of the best foods for keeping bloating at bay include:

  • Ginger – A powerful anti-inflammatory, this ancient root contains digestive enzymes that help the body break down protein easily.
  • Fennel – Has a natural diuretic effect (more on this later) which helps to remove excess water (and gas).
  • Lemons – The acidity of lemons is similar to the pH found in the gut – one of the reasons many believe it aids in digestion.
  • Avocados – As if you needed an excuse? Avos are rich in potassium, which again helps to release excess water.
  • Papaya – Contains the enzyme papain that helps break down food and smoothe out digestion.

2/ Limit Stress

Stress is a BIG driver of digestive discomfort and bloating for many people. Your nerves are bound to be a little elevated in anticipation of your big day, but tactics such as box breathing, meditation and journaling can help keep things under control.

A 2001 study of IBS patients showed that 6 weeks of meditation training significantly reduced digestive symptoms, even after a three-month follow-up.

Slowing down when you eat and chewing your food thoroughly may also reduce the risk of bloating, as it gives your body a better chance of digesting your meals properly.

3/ Consider Supplementing

For some, digestive enzyme supplements can reduce bloating by helping to break down indigestible carbohydrates and proteins when taken prior to a meal.

Probiotics or ‘friendly bacteria’ are also worth experimenting with, as they’ve been shown in studies to help reduce gas and bloating. You can get them in supplement form, but also via fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and kombucha.

4/ Keep Things Moving

Constipation can sometimes be a cause of belly bloating. While fiber is often recommended to help things along, for some people this can make things worse, so it’s wise to tread carefully.

If health conditions are ruled out by your doctor, light movement, adequate water intake and keeping a handle on stress can all potentially help out.

Foods to Avoid That Often Cause Bloating

As well as making a few lifestyle modifications, you can also reduce bloating before your shoot by limiting these common food culprits:

Foods to avoid before fitness photoshoot

SWAP THIS FOR THAT
Legumes – beans, lentils, peanuts Soaked beans, fermented tempeh, seafood
Wholegrains – wheat, rye, spelt, quinoa Rice, starch, maize, potato, tapioca
Dairy – milk, cheese, butter Rice or soy milk
Certain veg – onions, garlic, cauliflower Lettuce, courgette, cucumber, herbs, and spices
High fructose fruits – apples, pears, mango, figs, ripe bananas Dark berries, unripe bananas, orange, grapes

You’ve no doubt noticed:

Many of the foods on the list above are actually nutritious. In most cases, they’re totally fine to eat, and they actually contain a bunch of important vitamins and minerals. But if you’re prone to stress or gut discomfort, you might want to avoid them during the few days leading up to your photoshoot.

Why?

Excess fiber can sometimes be the bloating trigger for some people, as can FODMAPs – fermentable carbohydrates found in many grains, lentils, cruciferous veg, and sweet fruits.

Under normal conditions, a healthy gut doesn’t seem to have any problems with these foods, but people with more sensitive tummies or issues such as IBS or IBD may find they flare up (particularly during potentially stressful times, like prepping for a shoot).

Gluten and dairy can also be problematic, as they’re both common allergens. Alternatives to both may be worth experimenting with both during the buildup to your day and in your everyday diet.

Further resources:

Step 2: Minimize Water Retention

Along similar lines to reducing bloating, minimizing water retention is another effective way to slim down and make your muscles look more defined pre-shoot.

What we’re essentially looking to do is reduce or eliminate subcutaneous water (the water held just under the skin). In doing so, the skin appears tighter, and muscles tend to have more of a ‘pop’.

Four Ways to Cut Water Retention

1/ Take Natural Diuretics

Natural diuretics help to reduce the amount of water your body holds onto. Some of the most effective include:

  • Fresh ginger
  • Lemon and lime
  • Mint
  • Dandelion root
  • Tea and coffee

As we touched on earlier, some of the above may also be effective in helping you to beat the bloat too. Win-win.

2/ Manipulate Your Water Intake

Drinking more water at the beginning of the week causes your body to fall into the habit of excreting water at a higher rate (since your body is trying to stay in balance). When you then reduce your consumption towards the end of the week, your body dumps a larger amount in a short period of time (since it’s still used to disposing of the water at a higher rate).

A word of warning:

If you plan on experimenting with your body’s water content, do so with caution. Too much water can cause cells to swell too much. This is especially dangerous if it happens to brain cells, which can be life-threatening.

Common symptoms to watch out for include: headaches, nausea, vomiting, confusion, drowsiness, difficulty breathing, muscle weakness, and cramping.

On average, a healthy kidney can eliminate about 5.3-7.4 gallons (20-28 liters) of water/day; 27-33 oz (0.8-1.0 liters or 3-4 cups) per hour. With that in mind, you should never drink more than 27-33 ounces (0.8-1.0 liters) of water per hour.

3/ Reduce Your Salt Consumption

Excess sodium is one of the main causes of subcutaneous water buildup. As sodium holds onto water, it builds up and can make the skin appear puffy. By limiting processed foods and added salt, you’ll hold onto less liquid and look leaner.

Some of the biggest culprits when it comes to salt content:

  • Chips and snacks
  • Fast food and takeout
  • Canned goods
  • Cold cuts and deli meat
  • Pickled veggies

4/ Get a Sweat On

Whether it’s through exercise or cooking away in a sauna, sweating is a natural way to remove excess water (and potentially toxins) from the body.

Light exercise at the start of the week is also a great way to deplete muscle glycogen levels, which brings us to…

Step 3: Control Your Carbs

When you eat carbs, they are either used right away as an energy source or they get stored for later in the liver and muscles as glycogen. When those two tanks get filled up, any excess carbs are stored as body fat.

When it comes to photoshoots and physique competitions:

It’s widely believed that if you temporarily restrict your carbohydrate intake (which depletes your muscle glycogen), your muscles will start craving more glycogen. When you then decide to eat carbs again, your muscles will store more glycogen than normal, making them appear larger.

It’s an old-school technique typically used by bodybuilders, but also has some science behind it too:

A study in the 60s by Swedish researcher Dr. Bergstrom suggested that restricting carbs over a 3 day period whilst exercising reduced glycogen stores down to less than a third of normal values. The interesting part is that during the carb refeed, higher than normal levels of glycogen were observed.

Timing seems to be super important for this to work correctly.

As a general rule of thumb:

You want to eat small amounts of carbs at the beginning of the week prior to your shoot, and carb load towards the end.

Low Carb Recipes:

Low-carb vegan food

The Step By Step Guide to Peaking For Your Photoshoot

Leaning Out Prior to Peak Week

During peak week, the goal is to put the finishing touches on and enhance muscles before you get into the spotlight, but as we touched on earlier, it’s not the miracle cure.

Before you focus on your peak week diet, it’s important to make sure you already have a balanced regime in place, and you’re close to your ideal body composition for the tasks ahead. You might choose to calculate it yourself or consult an experienced sports dietitian/health coach.

Most people usually start off by figuring out how many calories they need and then break them down into macronutrients. This should all ideally be estimated with your bodyweight, height, body fat and activity levels in mind.

Here is a calculator that can give you a good estimate.

After you find a calorie range that fits in with your fitness goals, you can then begin to break down the macros. Thankfully, the smart guys with lab coats on have already done it for us.

An example breakdown from a 2014 study for someone prepping for a bodybuilding contest (or photoshoot) looks like this:

Diet Component Recommendation
Protein (g/kg of LBM) 2.3-3.1
Fat (% of total calories) 15-30%
Carbohydrate (% of total calories) remaining
Weekly weight loss (% of body weight) 0.5-1%

Keep in mind:

These macros are primarily designed for aesthetic purposes – to help you lose body fat and maintain muscle mass. From a health and longevity standpoint, focussing on the quality of your food over the quantity is from my experience a more sustainable, long-term strategy.

A Peek Into the Peak Week Schedule

Now we’re onto the final stretch. The last piece of the puzzle. Bear in mind that what follows is a short-term solution for enhancing the way your body looks – it’s by no means a healthy practice to maintain over the long-term.

As well as limiting sodium, managing bloating and cutting out processed foods, below you’ll find a sample plan for manipulating your macronutrient intake in the week prior to your photoshoot.

Since some of these recommendations depend on your usual intake, take the below with a pinch of salt (but not too much). It’s meant to be used as a guide that you can experiment with and tweak based on your specific needs and goals.

The best piece of advice I can give before you continue:

If possible, give it a trial run. Ideally, you don’t want the first time you try your peak week to be during your actual peak week. Have a play around a few weeks or months out from your shoot or show, and you’ll have a better idea of what works for you.

Pro Fitness Extreme Body Definition

6-3 Days Before Photoshoot

  • Fluids: drink up to 1.5-2 gallons water/day.
  • Carbs: ½ normal carb intake.
  • Lean protein: remains the same as usual.
  • Fats: adjust to make up for calories lost from carbs.

Remember – it’s during these initial three days that you want to begin drinking more water than normal so that your body gets used to excreting more.

You also want to deplete your carbohydrate intake so that your muscles start craving carbs. The amount may vary per person, but a good rule of thumb is ½ of your normal carb intake. So if you usually eat 150g per day, chop it down to 75g and increase your calories from healthy fat sources to make up for lost calories.

2 Days Before Photoshoot

  • Fluids: drink ½ gallon for the day.
  • Carbs: 2x normal carb intake.
  • Lean protein: remains the same as usual.
  • Fats: reduce to make up for calories gained from carbs.

Now that your muscle glycogen is depleted, it’s time to begin carb loading. Many people do best with moderate-fiber starchy foods such as oats, potatoes, yams, and unripe bananas. These carbs are easy to digest and get stored quicker into your muscles compared to high-fiber carbs (and are less likely to cause bloating).

As you increase your carb intake, your muscles should soak up the glycogen, adding more volume and shape to your gains. At this time, you’ll also want to slow down on the water to trigger the release of subcutaneous water.

1 Day Before Photoshoot

  • Fluids: drink ¼ gallon water for the day.
  • Carbs: make small adjustments if needed.
  • Protein: lean protein remains the same as usual.
  • Fats: adjust to make up for calories from carbs.

A day before the event, it’s time to cut your water intake further. Again, proceed with caution and listen to your body.

With regards to carbohydrate intake, play it by ear. If your muscles look full, but the definition is blurry, it’s generally advised that you go back to your normal carbohydrate intake. If you’re still not filling out as much as you’d like, you may want to continue with a high carb count.

Aside from food, it’s also important to pay close attention to your mental health. Prepping takes a lot of effort and can be super stressful. Practice visualization and breathing to channel that nervous energy, and don’t be afraid to talk to someone if you’re starting to freak out!

Day of the Photoshoot

Sip water throughout the day, but ideally no more than 1-2 cups. This will help keep your body from storing water under the skin. Just remember to be smart about it and sip water if you feel too dehydrated.

If you want to eat before the shoot, go for a combination of moderate-fiber carbohydrates, along with some lean protein and healthy fat.

Something along the lines of:

  • 20-30g protein
  • 40-100g carbs
  • 15-30g fat
  • 800-2000mg sodium

Over to you!

There we have it – your ultimate guide to meals before a photoshoot. You now have all the tips and tricks you need to lean out and look as ripped as possible on your big day.

All that’s left for you to do is for you to get out there and put things into action!

After all your hard work, remember to refuel and give yourself the right rest and recovery you need. It’s not often talked about, but preparing for a shoot or a contest places a fair amount of stress on the body and the mind.

So enjoy the process, learn from the experience, and come back even stronger next time.